Books and Movies Reviews

Nickel and Dimed

Barbara Ehrenreich doesn’t just want us to feel sorry for the kind
of low-wage, no-benefit worker that she profiles in her book Nickel and
Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. It’s not that she would mind your
feeling compassion or pity for them, but rather that she is interested in
making a larger point: Those low-wage workers – in restaurants and
Walmarts and Home Depots and Kohls – across the nation are actually
supporting the rest of us in the kind of middle-class life that we have
This will probably be a shocking statement to many because few of
us want to think that we owe our own prosperity (even if it happens to be
a very modest level of prosperity) to the exploitation of someone else.
But Ehrenreich knows that everyone living in the United States who isn’t
himself or herself at the very bottom of the economic ladder is depending
upon the underpaid work of others .
This is a topic that she has explored before in looking at the
dynamic between American consumers and foreign workers. When Americans
buy cheap T-shirts at Target or cheap brake pads at Napa, they are taking
advantage of the fact that someone on the other side of the world is
someone working in conditions that could bring prison terms to factory
managers in the United States for wages that would also get an American
It doesn’t take more than second-grade arithmetic to
understand what’s happening. In the U.S., an assembly-line
worker is likely to earn, depending on her length of employment,
between $3.10 and $5 an hour. In many Third World countries, a
woman doing the same work will earn $3 to $5 a day.
And so, almost everything that can be packed up is being
moved out to the Third World: garment manufacture, textiles,

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